Drugs giant Novartis warns jobs may go overseas
Swiss pharmaceuticals giant Novartis has arranged a crisis meeting of scientists, NHS trustees and Government officials starting today in London in a bid to streamline Britain’s “haphazard” approach to medical research and development (R&D).
Science Minister David Willetts is due to attend the meeting, thought to be the first to unite representatives of Big Pharma and the medical profession on a large scale. In a stark warning to the Government ahead of the Autumn Statement, Jon Symonds, global finance director of Novartis, which allocates $10bn in R&D a year, will say that Britain is losing competitiveness to emerging markets and Asia.
Ahead of the meeting, Mr Symonds told The Daily Telegraph, that while the UK has made “great strides” in supporting life sciences, the Government must be more radical and move far faster. He said bringing a drug to an NHS trust, securing clinical trials and getting approval, is inefficient and takes too long.
“It should be a seamless process but instead it takes an enormous amount of time and energy, during which we lose money,” he said. It can cost $1bn to bring a new drug to market, he said, but pharmaceutical companies usually just get a few months before a patent runs out so delays in getting trials and approval can be make or break. Yet often NHS trusts are slow to take-up new drugs or help organise trials.
“One of the characteristics of the UK is a very low up-take on innovation,” says Mr Symonds. “Sitting in another part of the business allocating my resources, if we don’t see the up-take in the UK resources will be allocated elsewhere.”
Rival pharmaceutical group Pfizer triggered a political row last year when it closed its only R&D facility in the UK, with the loss of 2,400 jobs.
In a speech at the meeting on Tuesday, Mr Symonds will say: “The placement of research is increasingly globally competitive: we can and must make choices over where we invest. In recent years, Novartis has made considerable investment decision in Shanghai, Russia and Brazil... one thing these markets have in common is that they have each recognised the need to shift from being a consumer of innovation to a generator of innovation.”
He will add: “The NHS seems to treat clinical trials as if they were a departure from the NHS core function - a departure that needs to be compensated with high charges.”
The pharmaceutical industry employs around 25,000 people in R&D in the UK and a total of 72,000 people in the industry as a whole. Globally it invests more in R&D than any other industry – £12.1m every day, according to the Association British Pharmaceutical Industries.
Last week at the CBI conference, David Cameron said Britain was in the “economic equivalent of war” and was in a “global race to succeed".
The prime minister said the country needed “buccaneering, deal-making, hungry spirit now more than ever” and vowed to support it.
The Chancellor George Osborne is under pressure to produce measures to support business and industry in his Autumn Statement next Wednesday.
Mr Symonds said: “There are a number of challenges that need to be addressed in the UK for it to truly become a destination of choice for research.”
He added: “Generally the initiatives are there, we need to see them followed through. The Government needs to deliver on its initiatives and ideas and make them a reality. Then we can see a virtuous circle - more innovation, investment and research.”